Parliamentary Committee finds Hayleys’ import of municipal waste absolutely illegal

Chairman of the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Economic Development probing the ongoing clinical waste controversy Harshana Rajakaruna today (25) accused Hayleys Free Zone Limited, a subsidiary of Hayleys PLC, of illegally importing 130 containers of municipal waste material which are currently lying in a hub facility operated by the company.

“Although the [Exclusion of Customs] Gazette was issued in 2013, this company has been bringing in waste to the country since 2017. The Gazette notification is on re-exportation, not bringing waste into the country. Garbage is imported on the pretext of re-exportation, which is absolutely illegal,” he said.

The Board of Investment (BOI), however, told the Sectoral Committee yesterday (24) that Hayleys had made “reasonable efforts” to operate the facility with minimal impact on the environment. According to the BOI’s submissions the Committee, a delay in re-exporting the processed waste had led to the current controversy.

The Central Environment Authority (CEA) in its submissions said that Hayleys had in fact not obtained prior approval, as required by law, to bring in the containers carrying municipal waste.

This was a violation of the law of the land as well as the Basel Convention, said Rajakaruna, which seeks to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations, particularly from developed countries to less developed countries.

Hayleys, however, refuting any connection with the other 111 containers now lying at the Colombo Port claimed that it operated strictly in the capacity of a hub operator. The company told the Committee that no clinical waste was in any of the 130 containers in its facility, insisting that its liability is limited to the delay in re-exporting the material.

Committee Chairman Rajakaruna told journalists at Temple Trees this morning that he finds the company’s denial “doubtful”.

Ordering the immediate re-exportation of the 111 waste containers at the Colombo Port, the Sectoral Committee on Wednesday (24) concluded there are loopholes in the regulatory process that need “immediate attention”.

In a detailed summary of its findings, the Committee observed that there is “no one to take responsibility for the 111 waste containers”, stating that it directed Sri Lanka Customs to carry out an investigation into the matter and provide a report to the Committee.

However, Rajakaruna maintained that there is indeed a company which brought in the lot but refrained from revealing its name.

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The other 130 containers at the Hayleys facility should also be re-exported with immediate effect, the Sectoral Committee concluded, requesting the company to discontinue importing waste material for the purpose of re-exportation.

The Committee directed the Board of Investment (BOI) to amend the import processes, adhering to existing laws. It also recommended that a CEA representative competent on the subject be present in-house at ports and airports to monitor the mechanisms of importing waste material.

Asked if Sri Lanka Customs was not aware that such material was being brought into the country, Rajakaruna said that Customs does not have adequate facilities to check all the containers that come into the country.

“Unfortunately not all containers are checked. They do random checks. So when you do random checks, there’s a chance you will miss some of these,” the MP added.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka Customs Media Spokesman Sunil Jayaratne told RepublicNext that according to the law, the actions of the Customs import controller and export controller are exempted. Customs carries out inspections only under special circumstances, he said.

Rajakaruna said that shortcomings on the part of the BOI, the CEA and Sri Lanka Customs along with loopholes in regulations have led to the current situation, promising that steps will be taken to avoid a recurrence.

The Sectoral Committee will meet again in two weeks to evaluate the progress of the implementation of its recommendations.

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